Elspeth Cowie has become one of Scotland’s best-known traditional singers. By the late 1960s, she had left her native musical roots behind in favor of rock and blues like thousands of young Scots. Sandy Denny (Fairport Convention) and singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell were favorites. But a move to the traditional music heartland of Aberdeenshire got her back to traditional music in the 1970s and early 80s. There, she became a a regular at what was then the Aberdeen Folk Song Club and became acquainted with Lizzie Higgins, a great traditional singer and daughter of the celebrated Jeannie Robertson. Lizzie’s encouragement fired up a passion that led Elspeth to join the band Seannachie in 1986 after moving to Edinburgh.
Well known for its ingenious arrangement of Scots songs and tunes, Seannachie provided an ideal vehicle, superb musicians who could support the singer. Two great albums, Take Note and Devil’s Delight resulted, the latter still reckoned by aficionados to be a modern folk classic.
Seannachie still re-forms sporadically for tours, but Elspeth Cowie has moved mainly towards solo work to find the freedom and confront the challenge of putting her songs across without the aid of an instrumental safety-net.
In 1996, she became full-time National Organiser of the Traditional Music & Song Association of Scotland. She has helped to develop TMSA into an influential information, education and lobbying voice, listened to in the corridors of power. She also tutors for bodhran and song workshops at festivals, other events and the Edinburgh based Adult Learning Project.
The sounds of pipe music and jazz have also inspired her. Elspeth’s father was in the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles). So the sound of pipes playing ‘The Black Bear’, reputedly the fastest regimental march in the UK army, was a regular event during her childhood. Albums by jazz greats such as Billie Holiday and Peggy Lee are also constantly on the turntable at Elspeth’s home in Midlothian.
Elspeth released Naked Voice, a solo album of mainly unaccompanied songs. Elspeth is also a member of the talented trio Chantan.